HERE COME THE BRIDAL BOUTIQUES

Byline: Joshua Greene

NEW YORK — For a bride, there can never be too many gowns and accessories from which to choose, especially if choosing them means visiting boutiques where sales consultants are doting and little goodies are made-to-order.
For the most demanding — the New York bride — jewel box shops continue to open in Manhattan, despite the uncertain economy and recent guilt associated with frivolity here.
As final details fall into place and the everything-must-be-perfect mind of a bride-to-be kicks into overdrive, these new boutiques are offering women some fresh venues to shop.
Well known in the bridal community, Fenaroli for Regalia touts an unofficial slogan: “Everything for the bride but the dress.” While the company had a showroom in New York for the past 10 years, a strong demand for Fenaroli’s footwear, accessories and tiaras sparked the idea to turn the company’s Seventh Avenue space into a private retail boutique.
The decision was finalized last year and the space reopened in January as a store. Karen Fenaroli, chief executive officer and designer, said she expects the new store to make up 5 to 10 percent of her business, with initial sales projections for the boutique at $1 million.
The Boston-based company opened it’s first store on Chicago’s Oak Street six months ago, near neighbors Barneys New York and Prada. But desire for a presence in New York was a major factor in opening the by-appointment atelier, according to Fenaroli, who said the store is four times as busy as Chicago’s.
“The New York bride is unbelievable,” Fenaroli said. “She searches and finds what she wants.”
Fenaroli said the 1,400-square-foot Chicago store is a blueprint for things to come and is currently looking for a permanent retail site in New York, most likely uptown off Madison Avenue. She said the decision will be made within the year.
“If they find us off Seventh Avenue, then they’ll find us off Madison,” Fenaroli said. “But brides really like the private atelier environment. They feel like I’m bringing them into my world.”
In addition to expanding business and visibility, Fenaroli said the stores offer a footprint for her wholesale clients to follow. Shop-in-shops in stores like Neiman Marcus, one of Fenaroli’s largest customers, are the ideal environment, she said.
“We want to look at the stores that are our best and help them create shop-in-shops,” Fenaroli said. “I want the ability to [display] my product in an unabridged version and have our assortment the way we want it presented to the public.”
Wholesale prices for Fenaroli for Regalia footwear runs $85 to $300; jewelry $60 to $300; tiaras $85 to $300; children’s wear $120 to $200, and veils between $100 and $200.
Mark Ingram opened his own bridal atelier after the design team at Wearkstatt, where Ingram was a former general manager and buyer, closed its SoHo boutique to focus on wholesale business.
The Bridal Atelier by Mark Ingram opened in January in midtown and offers a wide range of gowns, including styles from Anne Barge, Peter Langner, Amy Michelson and Manolo Collection. Ingram said he wanted a location that would be easily accessible midday and on the weekends, since multiple visits are required for most brides. Typically, an initial visit lasts an hour and includes a consultation with one of the Atelier’s four sales consultants.
At that point, Ingram said, the consultant will pull from the back room and the bride can display her options to family and friends seated in the front of the space on comfy sofas. The entire space was remodeled before Ingram moved in and features travertine floors, cool green and beige walls and plenty of mirrors to catch every angle of a dress. Since Ingram said he aims to breed a strong relationship between the salespeople and the brides-to-be, the space is limited to only three brides at a time.
“We have brides that range in age from 21- to 40-years-old,” Ingram said. “You want to build trust and confidence in her initial consultation because it’s a minimum of three to six months prior to her wedding.”
Ingram said he services brides in all types of weddings and offers a range of gowns priced between $2,000 and $4,500 retail.
“It’s so varied,” Ingram said. “Brides are having very New York City types of weddings that are chic and urban, but we also service brides in their 20s who are having weddings at country clubs and synagogues.”
Most brides, Ingram said, will spend near $3,000 for a dress, adding that he plans to reach $1 million in sales for 2002.
Though not a new business, Suzanne Couture Millinery recently reopened in a new location, just off Madison Avenue. The narrow space drips with made-to-order hats for all occasions, but the custom bridal tiaras, veils and beaded headpieces offer brides and their mothers a wide array of unique choices.
“Nothing is mass produced,” said South African-born owner Suzanne Newman. “Everything is done specifically for each bride. Some want minimal, some want heavily beaded, some want lace, some want sleek. They describe the dresses and bring me a photo, but I focus on the neck up and concentrate on the hair, I look at their features, the type of wedding and make the veils detachable if necessary.”
Newman said sales for the bridal market reach upward of $400,000 annually, representing 25 percent of her total business. In addition to the boutique, Newman said she plans on launching a wholesale bridal line sometime this year.
“I just don’t have enough hours in the day,” Newman said. “But that’s my next step.”
Custom headpieces and accessories are made in-house by Newman’s four-person staff and run from $250 to $2,000 retail.
Amsale opened the doors to its new 5,000-square-foot store on Madison Avenue in September in a space designed to showcase the simple aesthetics of its gowns in a museum-like environment.
The store features Brazilian walnut floors with white walls sprinkled with photographs of vintage Amsale gowns in the dressing rooms. The company, which is headed up by a husband-and-wife duo, had leased a smaller space at the same location with the vision to expand one day.
Vice president and co-owner Neil Brown said he expects first-year sales figures for the store to reach $4 million. Amsale Boutique, the made-to-order label, will be sold exclusively at the store, with a price of $4,000 to $15,000. Fully custom gowns, which originate from a sketch, are available only at the store and start at $30,000.
The boutique line was created for the new retail project and has no crossover with the wholesale line Amsale Collection, which offers between 80 and 100 styles, including carryover, and ranges in price between $1,200 and $1,900 wholesale. The Amsale Aberra Collection is a second wholesale collection that sits at a higher price point of $2,000 and $4,000 wholesale. All gowns are made in New York.
“We wanted the store to feel really modern and timeless, like our dresses,” said Amsale Aberra, the Ethiopian-born designer. “I didn’t want something downtown and ultramodern, but I didn’t want something stuffy either.”

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